Universal Flu Vaccine? When Pigs Fly!

H1N1 virus could lead to potential "universal" flu vaccine

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Scientists are studying antibodies created by the H1N1 (swine) flu virus that could potentially open the door to a universal flu vaccine that protects against a variety of strains.

Every year, around 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the influenza (flu) virus. Flu-related deaths average 23,600 yearly.

Scientists are now looking at the 2009 H1N1 flu strain, also known as, but misnamed as "swine flu," in order to concoct a universal flu vaccine. Those infected with the H1N1 flu develop antibodies that provide immunity to several different strains of the flu. This finding makes researchers hopeful that these antibodies can be somehow "induced" in people in order to provide protection against a variety of strains using just one super-vaccine.

By analyzing blood samples from infected H1N1 flu patients, scientists isolated antibody genes from white blood cells (those that protect against infection). They ended up with five antibodies that could, astonishingly, bind all of the seasonal H1N1 flu strains from the past ten years, the "Spanish flu" of 1918 and a variation of the avian flu.

When tested in mice, two of the antibodies were successful in protecting against any of the three flu strains.

Patrick Wilson, one of the study authors, calls this ongoing antibody discovery "the Holy Grail for flu-vaccine research," one that could, possibly, in the future, lead to the eventual creation of a universal flu vaccine.

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Review Date: 
January 11, 2011
Last Updated:
October 8, 2012